It is hard for President Donald Trump to outrage the country anymore after making offensive and inappropriate comments month after month, statements which would have been unthinkable under any other president. However, something about cursing primarily African-American football players for their political protest against racial injustice seemed to revive a needed outrage among the American people.
This is a good time for us to re-examine our own stance towards nationalism. Whether we literally take a knee during the national anthem, or do so symbolically, it is time for our nation to reconsider our current national trajectory and be willing to protest against increasingly unjust polices.
The greatest danger our country currently faces is not a lack of loyalty to the nation, but an out-of-control nationalism that both endangers the principles of our republic and is a threat to the entire world community. We currently have a leader who sits in bed at night and tweets about North Korea without considering the long-term results of his actions. Perhaps even more disturbingly, we have many that cheer on the militarism towards Iran and North Korea without considering the consequences for the whole world community.
It is also not the time to proclaim our greatness while failing to deal with the racial injustice and xenophobia in our current system which lead Kaepernick to begin his initial protest. Patriotism is not just about waving the flag and boasting about our greatness, but rather taking an honest and critical look at the direction our nation is going and trying to improve it for the better. It is easy to join the crowd and bask in national exaltation. It is more difficult to stand against this trend and actually work to make society more just.
This does not mean that the United States is a horrible place. There are many amazing things about this nation, and I am fortunate to have grown up here. It is also not about disrespecting the soldiers, either past or present. For far too long that has been used as a red herring to stop any needed dissent. However, we must begin realizing how our nationalism and unquestioning loyalty to the state are limiting us from actually progressing into that more perfect union. The United States, at its best, is grounded in the ideals of liberty, justice, and equality. When we put nationalism above those ideals, we have undermined the heart of the nation.
Perhaps it is time for us to stop beating our chests and consider taking a knee. Critiquing nationalism will always cause a backlash. Jesus himself was almost thrown off a cliff by the leaders of his day for critiquing their national pride (See Luke 4). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was derided as a communist in the midst of his strong critique of U.S. racial injustice, militarism, and economic inequality. In a time where our nation is going in a dangerous path, to blindly celebrate and pledge unquestioning allegiance is foolish.
In the words of the late historian, Howard Zinn: “Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”